Tarpaulins for sports stadiums, car dashboards, insulation material, electrical components, electric chargers and wires ... Antimony trioxide (ATO) is added to make all these products less flammable. The recycling company Campine refines antimony from industrial waste and processes the recovered metal into flame retardant solutions for its customers.
Campine used to import antimony metal cubes from Chinese mines and processing plants in order to produce flame retardant additives. It still does so, but since 2012 the company recovers as much ATO and other raw materials as possible from industrial waste flows.
Circular and dependable
"Recovering antimony is important to us for several reasons," says Hilde Goovaerts, Operational Excellence Manager at Campine. "For one, it makes us less dependent on supplies from China. This enables us to keep our prices more stable. Furthermore, we want to offer our customers as many sustainable and circular products as possible. Many of our customers, such as BASF and DSM, also feel very strongly about sustainability. Finally, antimony is a 'critical raw material', i.e. a scarce resource: reusing it as much as possible is therefore better for the planet and for our business model."
"Recovering antimony makes us less dependent on Chinese suppliers"
Hilde Goovaerts, Operational Excellence Manager
Eye on the future
The presence of flame retardants often makes it difficult to recycle plastic. This is because ATO is a synergist: it works only in combination with bromine or chlorine. As older products often still contain harmful bromine variants, they cannot simply be recycled. Campine wants to do something about this.
Hilde Goovaerts: "Campine is taking part in two European research projects: 'PLAST2bCLEANED' (Horizon 2020) and 'Lifeplasplus' (LIFE+). As part of these projects, we are looking into how we can recover components such as bromine and antimony from plastic separately, and how we can put the plastic to good use. This can be done, for example, by dissolving plastics in heated solvents, or by converting them into oil and a by-product. In time, we hope to use such techniques to recycle older waste streams. In this way, we can close the entire loop and provide a solution to reduce the growing mountain of plastic waste, including waste from electrical and electronic appliances."